USDA's March cattle on feed report said there were 7.0% fewer cattle in large feedlots than on March 1, 2012. The average of pre-release trade predictions was that the on feed number would be down 6.5%. More on this in next week's report.
The average price of choice beef at retail during February was $5.222 per pound. That was down 2.2 cents from January, but 17.7 cents higher than in February 2012. The February choice beef price was the highest for any month other than January 2013. The average price for all fresh beef was a record $4.915 per pound during February, up 0.3 cents from the previous record set in January.
It appears that Congress is about to pass a spending bill for the rest of this fiscal year which will avoid the need to furlough meat inspectors.
The 5 area average price for fed cattle was $125.10/cwt in February. That was up 40 cents from January, but down 60 cents from February 2012. The record is $126.80/cwt set in March 2012.
As often happens at this time of the year, the price spread between choice and select beef is quite small. Today the select carcass cutout value is higher than the choice cutout for the first time since April 12, 2012. Both choice and select beef cutout values declined this week. On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $192.17/cwt, down $3.75 from last Friday. The select carcass cutout was $193.04/cwt, down $1.16 for the week.
Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $124.77/cwt, down $1.74 from the prior week and down $1.82 from a year ago. On a dressed weight basis, steers averaged $197.71/cwt this week, down $5.14 from the week before and down $5.43 from a year ago.
This week's cattle slaughter totaled 601,000 head, down 0.8% from the week before and down 0.3% from the same week last year. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on March 9 was 860 pounds, up 2 pounds from the week before and up 12 pounds from a year ago. This was the 61st consecutive week with steer weights above the year-earlier level. Year-to-date cattle slaughter is down 3.4% and beef production is down 2.6%.
Feeder cattle prices at this week's Oklahoma City auction were generally $1 to $6 lower from the previous week. The price ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers were: 400-450# $177-$182, 450-500# $169-$177, 500-550# $164-$183.50, 550-600# $157.50-$170, 600-650# $140.50-$165, 650-700# $139-$146.50, 700-750# $135-$143.10, 750-800# $130.75-$142.75, 800-900# $124-$132.85, and 900-1000# $119-$124.75.
The April fed cattle futures contract ended the week at $126.20, up 43 cents from the week before. The June contract lost 13 cents this week to settle at $121.17 on Friday. August fed cattle ended the week at $122.85/cwt. March feeder cattle futures ended the week $2.02 lower at $134.65/cwt.
Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown